Yeah, I’m a bit of an old school gamer. The last game I played was Mass Effect, but the game I played before that was the original Ogre Battle for Super Nintendo. Whenever someone whines to me about how hard Ninja Gaiden or Devil May Cry was I throw Contra in their face. As a side note: Contra being stupidly difficult is one of those things you can count in in life. I’d even say it’s a constant, like the speed of light. Let it be a rock to you in troubled times. When your world crumbles, your beliefs are tested and you are filled with self doubt draw strength from the knowledge that Contra is, and always will be, very difficult.
I like the old games a lot, so I may come across as one of those “things were better in the good old days” types. Universally they weren’t. But there were some things that were better back in the day, and that’s what I want to talk about. You see, back in the day video games didn’t take teams of 200 people 2+ years to make. The average kindergarten student could produce about 4 NES video games in a year. That’s how low production demands were. Am I using hyperbole? You tell me. The bottom line is that the advent of 3D gaming and production costs (among other things) have combined to murder a lot of good genres, or at least push them towards extinction.
Certain genres are doing fine. It’s the glory days of the FPS (you can tell this is the case because lots of terrible FPSs are being produced, trying to ride on the coat-tails of the good ones). Back when GoldenEye came out every FPS was almost identical and there were only a few standouts, but now there’s actually a difference between Gears of War, Kill Zone, and Left 4 Dead. They aren’t all the exact same game. Good for the video game industry. The bad news is that genres that used to be well represented are dying out.
“Platformer” used to be what “video game” was synonymous with. If you liked video games it meant you like Mario, and possibly Mega Man. Now Mario evolved into 3D and still has 3D platformers, so I’m not too disappointed in him. Mario 64 and Mario Galaxy were both awesome, so he had a solid transition to 3D platforming, and hey, that’s a great evolution of the genre. Nintendo also went retro and released New Super Mario Bros for the DS (which, as a console, tends to get a lot of retro stuff on it) which was an awesome 2D platformer. The problem is, aside from that there’s not a whole lot else out there, and we’re talking 3 major games in a span of several years. Sure Mega Man has been trying, but that series has been refusing to change it’s formula and is getting punished for it. It’s foray into the X-Box Live Arcade was successful but only as a retro game. The genre needs to evolve and can’t keep spitting out the exact same 8 robot masters and 4 Dr. Wily stages every game. Consider the gap between GoldenEye 007 for N64, and a more modern shooter like Left 4 Dead. Things have changed, and they have mostly improved by quite a bit. This is where platformers like Mega Man are in trouble. They haven’t bothered thinking of a better way to make a game within the same genre. No 4-player co-op, no formal time attack modes, no 9th robot master. Nothing.
It’s just not interesting enough or making good use of what’s available anymore. But that doesn’t mean that the entire genre is obsolete. Quite the opposite, many of the most fun games of the past were platformers and it stems from the fact that the premise is good. It just needs to be brought up to speed by keeping what was good about the old and incorporating entirely new elements as well as some of the components that are expected from all games nowadays such as decent story, collectibles, and character advancement.